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Shortest vs. Fastest Route: When You May Need Different Types

Shortest vs. Fastest Route: When You May Need Different Types
Featured image credit: Ridofranz/iStockphoto.com

All Drivers Need Safe & Fast Routes

Fast routes don’t mean unsafe routes, and they don’t mean driving 100 miles per hour.

When we talk about by finding the best fast routes to multiple locations, we mean the automated usage of computer programs to quickly identify and determine for your benefit, the correct streets to travel throughout various times of the day.

We think that distance based routing is dead, because the distance between major cities can be very short, and the travel time can last for hours. Think Manhattan to Brooklyn or Manhattan to Newark, or New Haven to JFK airport. These types of trips can take up to 3 hours based on traffic conditions, while being in extremely close proximity.

The fastest routes may involve traveling back roads, delaying the start of a trip by 30 minutes or an hour, or leaving 1 or 2 hours earlier. The dynamic nature of the routing game is what makes it both complex and interesting.

Ensuring efficient field operations is a top issue for most field service businesses. This is because even small reductions in transportation costs or driving time can add up to significant savings for the business. With this in mind, many field service businesses use route optimization software to help their drivers find accurate driving directions from one place to another.

Yet, a sales rep might prefer a route with less driving time so that he can spend more time with his customers, while a field service company which transports chemicals may prefer a route that uses highways and avoids high-density city areas. Clearly, the “best route” means different things to different people. For most people, the best route would be the shortest one. For some, though, it may be the fastest path. And, some may prefer a trip that uses highways or avoids tolls and tunnels. To each their own!

Besides, the fastest or shortest route may not always be the most efficient one. For instance, the quickest route might have a lot of left turns and the shortest mileage route may drive through heavy traffic. In both these route options, your fuel consumption will go up significantly. Also, what if the fastest route is three minutes faster, but several miles longer? Is it still an efficient one? What if the shortest path allows you to drive 5 miles less, but makes you go through two tolls? Is it an efficient one?

Shortest or Fastest? Which One Should You Choose?

When planning a route, how do you know which type of route is best?

Your first option is to choose the fastest or shortest route. Your second option is to choose a route that considers all the factors, including weather, road conditions, customer delivery time preferences, vehicle capacity constraints, left turns, tolls, and tunnels.

Many successful field service businesses choose the second option! They realize that a common misconception is that the best routes are either the shortest or fastest when, in reality, planning routes is much more complicated.

Let’s look at real-life examples to understand the importance of route planning and why you should consider all the factors when planning routes and not just consider whether to choose the shortest or fastest routes.

Example 1: Delivery Service Businesses

Route Planning Goals: Avoid left turns, save fuel, and ensure driver safety.

Many delivery service businesses, or just those who deliver packages with their car, plan their routes while keeping fuel consumption and driver safety in mind. For instance, rather than taking the shortest mileage route, UPS prefers a route with the least amount of left turns.

There are two reasons for this preference: safety and efficiency. Left turns are considered more dangerous because the driver needs to navigate through oncoming traffic, which increases the risk of accidents. Also, avoiding left turns is considered fuel-friendly as the driver does not need to spend a lot of time waiting at traffic lights to turn. According to a report, UPS saved millions of gallons of fuel and drastically reduced their driving time just by avoiding left turns.


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Example 2: Crowdsourced Delivery Businesses

Route Planning Goals: Timely deliveries and adhering to customers’ delivery time windows.

Crowdsourcing is one of the latest trends in the delivery industry, which is fuelled by customers expecting same-day and two-hour deliveries. Since this model is based on speedy and convenient customer service, adhering to specific time windows is necessary.

Different types of customers, promised delivery times, and the types of packages being delivered and picked up are some of the many factors that dispatchers consider when planning the best route for such businesses. And, the shortest or fastest routes may not work because they may not accommodate the specific time windows requested by some customers. So, the best route is the one that allows the company to serve all its customers as per the specific time slots, reduces travel time, is fuel-efficient, and allows for sufficient breaks for the drivers.

Trying to plan the best route while considering all of those factors will take an enormous amount of time if you are doing it manually. However, an advanced route optimization software can consider all those factors and create an optimized route for your drivers in less than 30 seconds.

Example 3: In-Home Service Businesses Need to Route Fast

Route Planning Goals: Consistent service that earns customer loyalty and adhering to customers’ time windows.

The biggest challenge of an in-home service business is consistent service, which means providing customer service at the promised time and preferably with the same employee. Unfortunately, the preference to assign the same rep or driver for a particular customer, while honoring the specific time windows often conflicts with the shortest or fastest route.

Routing fast is more than just giving drivers a way to get to customers efficiently, it’s also about saving route planning staff and dispatchers immeasurable amounts of time over many years of repetitive day to day operations work.

Yet, in-home service businesses should prioritize customer satisfaction over quicker routes. So, they should plan routes by providing a “time window” and ensure the same employee visits the same customer at the committed time.


Delivery service businesses are more concerned with using an efficient route, while crowdsourced companies that survive on speedy customer service are looking for routes that are both efficient and accommodate the customers’ needs. Whichever business category you fall in, finding the right route type will never be a “one and done” process. It will always be an iterative process and you’ll find yourself balancing customer needs, transportation costs, and travel time.


Want To See For Yourself How Route4Me Can Boost Your Profits?

Whether you want to slash the time it takes you to plan routes for your drivers, increase the number of stops they can make, or keep your customers satisfied knowing that your drivers show up on time… Route4Me helps you achieve that!

Start Free 7 Day Trial

About author: Rahul Dasgupta

Rahul Dasgupta is a content writer with over 20 years of work experience. He holds a master’s degree in computer science and has written thousands of blog posts on route planning and scheduling, making it easy for readers to learn about these complex topics. Rahul enjoys playing tennis in his spare time and loves cuddling with his pet labrador Shinu. Rahul is a big fan of Roger Federer, Messi, and Bill Gates - he admires their drive to be the best at what they do and their philanthropic efforts.


About Route4Me

Route4Me has over 35,000 customers globally. Route4Me's Android and iPhone mobile apps have been downloaded over 2 million times since 2009. Extremely easy-to-use, Route4Me's apps create optimized routes, synchronize routes to mobile devices, enable communication with drivers and customers, offer turn-by-turn directions, delivery confirmation, and more. Behind the scenes, Route4Me's operational optimization platform combines high-performance algorithms with data science, machine learning, and big data to plan, optimize, and analyze routes of almost any size in real-time.